Falling Into Courage

I’ve had clumsy falls in my life, but this one was a doozy…and it would prove to be transformational.

It took a moment to gauge the results of my nosedive off of my too-high heels. I was lying facedown on the outside stairs of my apartment building, looking like I was kissing the concrete. Various parts of my body were crying out in pain—my ribs, my right arm, both knees, and my chin. An alarming puddle of blood was seeping onto the gray concrete beneath my face.

Get up! I told myself. C’mon girl, you’ve got to be at school in a few minutes!

Slowly, I stood up. My new lawyer-like outfit was no longer pristine. The navy suit was decent, but red droplets dotted my ivory blouse. A large tear ripped through my nylon stockings. My black too high-heeled pumps were scuffed.

Only moments earlier, I had been coaxing myself to stay calm while I was dressing for the event that I had dreaded for days, weeks, and months: my moot court argument. I almost avoided enrolling in law school due to fear of this rite of passage for first-year law students. Moot court is a mock appellate court case in which law students are paired up into teams and given an imaginary client. A key part of the assignment is oral argument —a persuasive oral presentation of one’s argument followed by intensive questioning by a panel of pretend judges. Moot court is the Socratic method on steroids, and I feared that I would be rendered speechless, stupid, and embarrassed.

With a hand cupped under my chin, I went back to my apartment. Blood droplets escaped through my fingers onto the carpet. I made a beeline for the bathroom, grabbed a handful of toilet paper and placed the wad over my chin, avoiding a look in the mirror so that I could stay focused.

Adrenaline was flowing. In the aftermath of the fall, I realized that my focus had shifted from fear to determination. You can do this. You’ve put too much into this. Your partner is counting on you.

Upon arriving at school, my partner greeted me with a look of horror. “What happened to you?”

I lifted my toilet paper bandage to reveal my gash. He was aghast. “I can see your bone! You’re going to need stitches. Let’s get you to the hospital!”

“No,” I replied firmly. “We are going to do this argument. I’ll go to the hospital afterward.”

Almost miraculously, my partner had medical supplies in his truck and a first aid background. He masterfully butterflied the wound shut with a special bandage, and then affixed a larger bandage that covered my chin from side to side.

Looking like the walking wounded, I faced the panel of judges with surprising focus, calm, and confidence that had emerged through the ordeal. Then I was off to the hospital for numerous stitches.

Sometimes it takes falling down on your face to discover inner resources you didn’t know you had. My moot court argument was an unusual, profound form of education. The judges were likely more impressed by my resilience and tenacity than my legal argument. Finding the courage to rise up after falling down was a key transformational moment, one that I would draw upon throughout my life when facing adversity.

If you look back over your life you, too, can discover key moments in which you learned that you had an inner strength that propelled you forward.